I always looked forward to the state fair. Not so much for the food (so I tell myself) or for the entertainment, but for the chance to feed baby carrots to the three young giraffes in the petting zoo. I liked feeding the shorter one of the three. It was easier for her to get down to my eye level. My friends laughed at my child-like anticipation. But that didn’t deter me.

There was something graceful about the way the giraffe would swing her head slowly on that long neck, back and forth like a giant living pendulum. Once in range of my outstretched handful of small carrots, a long, purplish, scratchy tongue would delicately curl the carrots into her mouth. She then had a friendly, peaceful look on her face that somehow brought me inner peace.

A giraffe’s golf ball-sized eyes are an amazing soft, brown color. The eyelashes are like long silk threads. Yet there is a certain sadness about those eyes. Some people believe that a giraffe is capable of crying.

Due to the pandemic, the fair was closed for two years. So, this year, I was especially excited about reuniting with the giraffe. The petting zoo was not easy to find. It was tucked away in the far corner of the fairgrounds, next to the old wooden grandstand, near the railroad tracks. It seemed like something you had to want to find and were willing to go out of your way to find.

Covid had changed many things. I looked for the petting zoo in its usual place, but it was not there. It must have been moved. So, I carefully made my way around the fairgrounds–twice. I still could not find it. Maybe the petting zoo was no longer part of the fair. Perhaps the owner retired or felt it was too risky to travel around the country, not knowing where Covid or a variant might appear or re-appear.

The state troopers who regularly patrol the grounds would surely know what happened to the petting zoo. I approached two troopers who were on patrol. “Yes, we have a petting zoo,” he responded matter-of-factly. “It’s over near Restaurant Row. But there are no giraffes. Just goats, a pig, and a pony.”

“But the last time I was here, there were three giraffes at the petting zoo next to the old grandstand over by the train tracks. I visited them for years and fed them carrots.” I felt my voice rising. The troopers exchanged a sideways glance. The other trooper started to get a little testy. “Sir, my partner and I regularly walk around every foot of these fairgrounds. Believe me, there are no giraffes at the fair. We’ve never seen any!” Now he sounded a little pissed and, believe me, you don’t want to piss off a state trooper. Ever.

I noticed his partner peering into my canvas tote bag, probably expecting to find a half empty wine bottle. It held only two edible souvenirs: a bag of kettle corn and a box of saltwater taffy. I thought, sorry for your disappointment and decided it was time to leave. But the child in me persisted. “See you next summer.”

Ron Theel is a freelance writer, mixed media artist, and educator living in Syracuse, New York. His work has appeared in “The RavensPerch,” “The Bluebird Word,” and forthcoming in “Beyond Words.”